How companies record the sickness absence details of their staff is set for a wholesale overhaul
A new Government code of practice on employment records, drawn up by the Information Commission, will mean employers will have to introduce a single sickness database and get the individual consent of each member of staff to record and keep their sickness data.
HR departments and line managers will have to be trained in data handling procedures to ensure consistency and that all records are dealt with appropriately.
Employees will need to be provided annually with a copy of the personal details about them that are being kept on file.
However, employers will be able to keep absence records, something that was prohibited in the original draft of the code.
The code has been drawn up to clarify organisations' responsibilities about the handling of personal data in the wake of the 1998 Data Protection Act, which came into force in October last year.
It also stresses that sickness and accident records should be kept separately from absence records and that information should only be disclosed where there is a legal obligation to do so.
Records should not be made available to other workers "other than to provide managers with information about those who work for them insofar as this is necessary for them to carry out their managerial roles", it said.
Kate Bleuel, head of health and risk at management consultancy Towers Perrin, said the code would force employers to update sickness absence record keeping.
Often line managers, HR, payroll and the OH department had all kept a copy of an employee's records and that would now have to go, with computerised systems probably the most obvious replacement.
"They are codes of practice, not legal acts, but if an organisation was brought before a tribunal and hadn't done it, they would be asked why they were not following best practice," she said.
OH and HR would have a key role together in training line managers about their new responsibilities for recording absence, she added.
Most employers will have not looked at their policies for some considerable time, but an overhaul would eventually lead to smoother processes.